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5 Tips and Tricks For Shooting Polaroids | Instant Film Advice from an RVA Film Photographer

Richmond Film Photographer

Hi, I'm Jesslyn. I'm a hybrid digital & film photographer based in Richmond, Virginia. I specialize in weddings, elopements, and motherhood photography, but I actually started my journey through taking self portraits! I love the feeling I get from taking photos, but I originally fell in love with photography because of the transformational power I've witnessed it to have. Not only is photography a way to preserve memories and document history in the making, but it's also a way to create one's own universe through creative expression. Each person holds a unique perspective, whether they're a photographer or not. I believe photography is for everyone. If you need some advice/tips for getting your polaroids to come out the way you want them to, maybe you can find some insight and inspiration here. :)


RVA Photographer

There’s something so mysteriously magical about the unpredictability of instant film. You have the possibility of creating ethereal magic through them or just get frustrated over a completely overexposed blob hahaha :’) I think that’s why I’m so drawn to polaroids. You have to take a chance with them to make magic. You must get used to documenting in a way that relinquishes control and expectations. In this post I will be sharing what I've learned through my years of shooting instant film.

RVA Wedding Photographer

I’m admittedly a huge control freak and I’m still developing my craft. I’m always learning and trying to take everything in everything in when it comes to documentation and what kind of photographer I aim to be. Polaroids force me to release control and allow room for the unexpected. For me, shooting polaroids seems like the purest form of documentation. “Don’t think, just shoot” <3

RVA Wedding Photographer

If we have a session coming up or if I’m joining you on your wedding day this year, I’d love to know if you share my fascination with polaroids. I really wanna lean into shooting more polaroids for my clients this year as I get more skilled with this wildering medium. 🌀

RVA Film Wedding Photographer


1. Mindset

Each polaroid is truly one of a kind, couldn't replicate them if ya tried. Notice how I put "good" in quotation marks? It is what you make it. Which leads me to my first bit of advice. Try to go into shooting polaroids with an open mind. If you have rigid expectations or you're trying to achieve a very specific look, you will likely be disappointed. Even the most experienced film photographers take shitty polaroids, we only post our favorites online. When I first started shooting polaroids in high school, I actually gave up and took a long hiatus. Let's be real, polaroid film is expensive AF. It can be hard to not cry over wasted film. I know from experience. Instead of aiming for perfection and getting let down, I try to go into creating with polaroids as a fun gamble. An opportunity for magic but a risk nonetheless. You will only get better with time and experience. Everyone has to start somewhere. Don't give up bestie. ;-)

Richmond, Virginia Film Wedding Photographer

2. Temperature

The colors and effects created in polaroids have so much to do with the temperature, light, and pressure on them while developing and shooting. They absorb energy and lock a fraction of a second in time away in a lovingly haunted emulsion. Magical, right?!

While it may seem obvious to some, it took me a long time to realize how much temperature played a hand in how the polaroids turn out. I store my film in my refrigerator when I'm not out shooting. This helps your film to last longer if you aren't planning on shooting it right away.

If you are shooting polaroids in cold climates, I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep your film warm after it spits out the polaroid. I put mine in my pants or shirt and try to keep it as warm as possible from my bodyheat. If your polaroids are freezing while developing, they will likely turn out very blue. While this can be a vibe, I prefer a more color balanced image. The polaroid below was shot on a hot summer day. This is something important to remember, the same image can look completely different depending on how the film was stored prior to shooting and what conditions it developed in.

RVA Photographer

3. Light

If you're a digital photographer, you've probably heard that it's better to underexpose than overexpose. Well with polaroids, exposure is a whole different beast. Polaroid will tell you to always shoot with the sun behind you, AKA on your subject. While it's true this is a less risky way to shoot polaroids, I personally love to experiment with light in a different way. My best advice when it comes to lighting and exposure is when in doubt, use the flash. If you plan on not using your flash and prefer a more ambient lighting situation, I highly recommend using a tripod so your shutter speed won't affect the motion blur as much. If you don't want to use a tripod, you should probably only shoot in bright sunny conditions while shooting without flash. But hey, do what you want! This is just one film photographer's advice. :)

While your polaroid is developing (in the 15-25 minutes after you take the photo) place it in your pocket or face down somewhere dark. DO NOT SHAKE YOUR POLAROIDS, THIS IS A MYTH. Instead of shaking it, put it in the dark immediately and don't peak until at least 15 minutes has passed. I know, it's hard, I promise it's worth it.

I love shooting my subjects backlit, with and without flash. If you're taking a photo that you know is going to be a banger and you're worried the exposure may be wonky, try taking one with flash and one without! Experimentation is really the best way to learn when it comes to any kind of photography. Film was meant to be shot, don't worry about wasting it. It took me a while to nail this concept into my head.

RVA Wedding Photographer

4. Gear - which instant film cameras are actually worth investing in?

If you know me, you know I immediately purchased the new polaroid I-2 as soon as it came out last year. I'm not going to lie to you guys, it's my favorite camera I own. The polaroid i2 is the most expensive polaroid camera currently on the market, and for good reason. Polaroid says it's their "sharpest-ever lens," which is debated amongst the film community. Many film photographers regard the original polaroid SX-70 land camera (the first instant film camera ever produced) as the best of the best. I have both, and I love both.

For me personally, I prefer to shoot with the I2 for a couple of reasons. The first being the simple fact that i-type film is cheaper than SX-70 film. Not by a lot, but with the amount of film I shoot it really makes a difference. The second main reason is that the I-2 has manual settings which is hard to beat. For experienced photographers, the option to shoot instant film with full control over settings is really a game changer. Another reason is the flash of it all. The SX-70 does not have a built-in flash and the flash bars have been known to electrocute the user... Let's remember, these are old cameras. I will say, nothing beats the feeling of shooting with the SX-70. It's a beautiful camera and if you're into antiques, she's definitely worth the purchase. There's something to be said about how a camera feels in your hands while shooting... I know it sounds pretentious but let's not pretend we don't care about how cameras look and feel. It's not all about the final product, taking photos should feel fun and the camera you use can determine the amount of fun you have while shooting. If you're looking for a beginner instant film camera, I highly recommend the polaroid now/now+.

I do want to mention I have experimented with instax instant film cameras as well. While I do enjoy the look of instax film, it really comes down to a stylistic/shooting preference. I ultimately decided to stick with polaroids. I've made a visual comparison of some different film cameras below.

SX-70 Golden Hour Magic

How To Shoot Polaroids, SX-70

Fujifilm Square SQ1

Instant Film Cameras Comparison. Fujifilm/Instax vs Polaroid

Polaroid One Step

RVA Film Wedding Photographer

Polaroid I-2

RVA Photographer

5. Scanning

If you're reading this, it probably means you're excited about shooting polaroids and you want to learn how to make the most of your film. I don't think enough people talk about how the means in which you convert your polaroids into digital files affects the look of the images. If you shoot a lot of film and want full control over your polaroids, I HIGHLY recommend investing in a flatbed scanner. I use the Epson Perfection V600 and I love her. I've been using it for years and it has 100% leveled up my 35mm and polaroid game. It's actually kind of wild how much recovering and altering you can make to film through scanning it yourself. One time I was shooting polaroids in the winter and they all came out super blue and overexposed. I was able to fully recover them through flatbed scanning and it saved some precious moments! Of course we don't plan on our polaroids turning out shitty, but let's be honest... it's inevitable sometimes. Having the option to correct overexposure and discoloration is a no brainer in my opinion.

RVA Film Photographer

If you made it through this whole blogpost, let's grab a coffee and chat analog. I appreciate you being here and I hope these words inspired you in one way or another! Remember kids, stay broke shoot film. ;)


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